Monday, April 03, 2006

Family Report on New Orleans

Every two years my father’s side of my family holds a family reunion in New Orleans. My grandfather, Simon Benjamin, was the oldest of twelve and the only one born in St. Louis. The rest were born in either White Castle, LA or New Orleans, where they all grew up. Simon was the only one to move away, and he went to New York City to make money to send back to the family so they could survive during the depression. Now we are scattered all over the United States, like many modern familys. While I didn’t make it to the reunion this year, due to neck and shoulder problems and a slew of physical therapy, my cousin, David Saperstein, who’s also an attorney with Maddin, Hauser, Wartell, Roth & Heller , P.C. in Southfield, MI, had this to say about what things are like in the Crescent City:

“New Orleans is trying to put its best face forward, but is still devastated. As most people know, there are portions of the city (both rich and poor) that no longer have residents. Houses are off their foundations everywhere, caved in. Tarps on rooftops signal where people cut a hole in their roofs to climb up and get rescued. Painted x's on the houses show when a house was searched, by whom, and whether anyone died. Also painted on homes and businesses are notes for the next rescue unit, e.g. Dog under porch (first team); searched but did not find dog (second team); or HELP! HELP! HELP! Abandoned cars lie waiting to be picked up underneath the freeways. Boats are seen in neighborhoods miles away from the lakes.

What is less well known is the chronic labor shortage. For those with damage to their homes, minor or major, contractors are next to impossible to find. As a result, many residents who have returned live in trailers in front of their home. The logistical challenge in finding the manpower to tear down entire sections of a city and then finding land to dump the debris can only be described as overwhelming.

Visitors need to be ready for longer waits and less support staff in restaurants and hotels as well as difficulties finding a cab. On the plus side, most of the downtown, French Quarter, Central Business District, as well as Uptown, are open for business. Music is back with Jazz Fest expected to be great this year. Although not all restaurants are open yet (in large part because of labor shortages), most have reopened and the food is wonderful. We had a sneak preview of what is likely to be New Orleans' next signature restaurant, The Cellar. It is located in a former home (a la Commander's Palace) off St. Charles uptown. Incredible food and wonderful house.

The entire city is terrified about what the upcoming hurricane season will bring. However, residents seem determined to revive the city, and want the word to get out both that they are open for visitors as well as not to forget New Orleans as it lobbies for critical funds needed for rebuilding.